I wrote an analysis on nuclear energy for @BostonReview. The conversation on nuclear should consider what sorts of energy will be best suited to an increasingly unstable Anthropocene & how our energy choices lock in what sorts of societies we can build bostonreview.net/science-nature…
@BostonReview Nuclear has a few big upsides: no GHG emissions at the point of electricity production, mostly stable supply, & relatively easy to slot into existing grids. This is important given that demand for coal, gas, & oil are still increasing: bloomberg.com/news/articles/…
It also has well-known downsides: it's expensive, between $112-189/MWh & costs more to run than it earns, according to @AmoryLovins. Slow to build at 10yr avg build time. Highly toxic waste from mining & operations. Nonrenewable fuel. And tech solutions are mostly still far away
And the upsides come with some caveats. It's not non-carbon & maybe not even low-carbon: nuclear power exceeds the limit of CO2 emissions set by the UK government’s climate change advisor, at 50g of C02 per unit of electricity: theecologist.org/2015/feb/05/fa…
There’s no guarantee new nuclear would displace existing carbon electricity (just as renewables have failed to displace existing carbon): it currently only mitigates 2-3% of carbon emissions and this study predicts that is likely to decrease: sciencedirect.com/science/articl…
Slotting into grids isn’t all good. It may mean faster transition to non-carbon, but existing grids tend to not be very climate resilient & could lock in undesirable social and political relations, both of which are negative in an increasingly unstable future
Nuclear was developed in a stable period. But even in that time, it has succumbed to failures of safe waste storage & safe operations. As the world becomes less stable with climate change, there’s good reason to believe nuclear would also become more dangerous
Of course, the caveat to that is that even with all the combined deaths caused by nuclear tech—even nuclear weapons—business-as-usual fossil fuel pollution has killed orders of magnitude more people, today more than 8m people per year: ucl.ac.uk/news/2021/feb/…
Even so, the US gov only guarantees 90 years of safe storage for nuclear waste that can remain toxic for 250k years, eg almost as long as humans have existed. The notion that safe storage could be maintained for that amount of time is probably impossible
Finally, some on the left have suggested that nuclear should be central to a Green New Deal for its good union jobs. But currently, the industry is only unionized at the national average & even at full capacity would probably not produce more than 225k jobs
Meanwhile, mining uranium and building plants depends on a lot of non-unionized, precarious, and dangerous labor that historically has burdened already-marginalized workers
Traci Brynne Voyles notes that “Radiation-related diseases are now endemic to many parts of the Navajo Nation,” & among miners “increased incidents of tuberculosis, fibrosis, silicosis, and birth defects, all linked to exposure to uranium from mines and mills.”
Ultimately, the question on whether to forge ahead with nuclear is a tough call & it's worth weighing up the risks and benefits, both of which may have serious consequences, positive & negative. We should be wary of any commentators who are overly strident in their positions

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More from @sjmmcd

21 Feb
It's a sad commentary on the state of political discourse that comments like this are generally still acceptable. This tortured reasoning is based on debunked, phony science and bad history, and contributes to accelerating our march toward mass death and destruction
Just the phrasing that some places are poor "due to the fact that some countries achieved growth and others not" is steeped in a propagandistic misunderstanding of history that covers up atrocities, but also a deeply unsettling interpretation of what growth means
This reasoning suggests that by some random natural accident, some places "achieved growth" and others didn't, and the only solution is for more countries to "achieve growth". There are so many problems with this, like
Read 9 tweets
13 Dec 20
This is obviously stupid and dangerous for a lot of reasons, but the last card ("No science. No shutdown.") stuck with me because I think it speaks to something that those of us involved in knowledge production and dissemination could pay more attention to
I think a lot of non-scientists/journalists believe there’s a Knowledge Orb in a lab in a tower somewhere, and you just ask it a question & out comes perfectly true information. When they find that the information is faulty, they want to throw the Orb out the window
Of course a lot of the rampant anti-intellectualism today is the product of a concerted campaign by ruling class orgs to divide-and-conquer the ruled classes by creating oppositional epistemologies (if we don’t have a shared reality, we’ll never unite against them)
Read 21 tweets
11 Dec 20
sorry to pile on but not only do Americans not share this kind of collective mythology (it's not movies), I'd go as far as saying that most of us would struggle to imagine what it would be like to have that kind of shared mythology: the-trouble.com/content/2018/7… ImageImageImage
But I do agree with the original sentiment that dismissing fantasy fiction as 'kiddie shit' is silly
tldr from those screenshots: Norse mythology (etc) offered a sense of place in a deep timeline extending far back & forward, and a place in the universe. Fantasy fiction today offers shared stories, but doesn't play that kind of role cosmologies have for people
Read 4 tweets
3 Dec 20
This "angry business owner" is 100% correct that the government should have responded by giving every family enough to survive a long lock down. Instead, government policy funneled trillions in wealth to the already-wealthy. He's right to be angry
Even at the beginning, all the data suggested that simply giving people the financial means to self-isolate would go a long way toward decreasing the impacts of the virus. The government did the opposite, demanding partial, poorly targeted lock-downs without financial support
And the result? The virus spread quickly, more people died, many small companies have shuttered, public institutions like museums are closing. Meanwhile, the largest corporations—and their wealthy investors—reap massive rewards and expand their market share
Read 4 tweets
8 Oct 18
I’m seeing lots of enthusiasm for addressing climate change today. This is a delight. I'm also seeing lots of smart voices go right up to the edge of the big question: what do we Do?
But few or none are quite going over the edge and confronting the answers to that big all-important question…
That’s not to say people aren’t saying “Here’s what we do!” There are lots of prescriptions flying around. I’ve contributed to that deluge ineffectually. There’s no shortage of things we must Do..
Read 24 tweets

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